Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993).
Hoard coins: On the coin market the 1887-O Morgan dollar seems to have always been available in Mint State, possibly from a supply augmented by occasional releases of mint-sealed bags, which are known to have occurred in 1938, 1953, 1957, and probably a few other years as well. In the 1962 emptying of the hoard of 10 million New Orleans coins from a sealed vault in Philadelphia, many 1887-Os turned up, but it was not one of the most plentiful dates. Bags from Treasury holdings were released by the government as late as March 1964, and were among the last issues paid out.
Reminiscing in The Comprehensive Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, Dean Tavenner said that he obtained one bag of prooflike 1887-O dollars with bagmarks in April 1964 just at the time his bank in Deer Lodge, Montana was running out of silver dollars at face value. He also noted that EF and AU 1887-O dollars, as well as New Orleans dollars of certain other dates, were released in quantity in mint-sewn bags.
Circulated grades: Circulated 1887-O dollars are very common, including high-grade AU coins.
Mint State grades: The typical Mint State coin is heavily bagmarked, has dull lustre, and is poorly struck. As if that were not enough, it is apt to be in lower grade levels. Wayne Miller wrote: "In 1971 the author bought an original Uncirculated bag of 1887-O dollars which did not contain one fully struck coin." In grades MS-60 through MS-63 the 1887-O's common, and probably somewhere around 100,000 exist. At the MS-64 level it becomes scarce, with 3,000 to 6,000 surviving. Fully struck MS-65 coins are rare and number only in the hundreds.
Maurice Rosen commented as follows concerning 1887-O dollars (letter to the author, January 22, 1992.):
“One of my duties at First Coinvestors was to manage and acquire coins for our U.S. Silver Dollar Investment Program, which at its peak in the mid-1970s had about 1,000 active investors. I recall handling bag-quantities of these New Orleans [1887-O, 1889-O and certain other] issues. By today's standards, they were all in low Mint State grades, MS-60 to MS-62, almost always softly struck, with not one coin making even today's 64.”
Prooflike coins: Prooflike pieces are scarce but readily available in lower grades. Most are flatly struck. Cameo DMPL coins are mostly MS-64 or lower. In grades of MS-65 DMPL or higher, 1887-O is very rare. Wayne Miller considered the Jack Roe, Jerome Kern, Amon Carter, Jr. coin, at $19,800, to be a Proof. I have not seen it, nor has Walter H. Breen. The earliest record for an alleged Proof: S.H. & H. Chapman June 17-18, 1889 sale at $4, two years after it was struck.
1. Normal date: Breen-5595. Minor positional varieties.
2. Doubled Date: Breen-5596, VAM-2. Not known with prooflike surfaces. Commonly called a "doubled date," this variety has the 7 unmistakably tripled. Becoming quite popular.
3. Other varieties: At least 10 other varieties show partial repunching on dates; VAM-5 has doubled stars and motto and is quite scarce. VAM-222, with doubled stars and eyelid, discovered by Jeff Oxman in 1984, may be unique.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintage: 11,550,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 900,000; February: 1,000,000; March: 1,000,000; April: 1,000,000; May: 1,000,000; June: 1,000,000; July: 600,000; August: 1,050,000; September: 1,000,000; October: 1,000,000; November: 1,000,000; December: 1,000,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Millions, probably including many under the 1918 Pittman Act, and certainly many during the private silver melts of the 1970s.
Availability of prooflike coins: Many exist, but nearly all are poorly struck and in lower grades. MS-65 DMPL or finer coins are very rare.
Characteristics of striking: Usually poorly struck with poor lustre.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Tens of thousands were released by the Treasury 1962-1964.
The 1887-O is very common in low Mint State grades, weakly struck. In MS-65 grade, sharply struck, it is rare.
Distribution of Silver Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1887, told of the distribution of silver dollars at the New Orleans Mint:
On hand June 30, 1886, 3,279,237; coinage of fiscal year 1887 11,210,000; available for distribution 14,489,237; in mint June 30, 1887, 8,163,744; distributed from mint: 6,325,493.
The New Orleans Mint in Fiscal Year 1887
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1887, page 55, told what the New Orleans Mint had been doing recently:
"The operations of the mint at New Orleans during the last fiscal year have been limited to the manufacture of silver dollars. The monthly allotments of coinage at this mint were
increased to one million silver dollars in November 1886. A monthly coinage of this number of pieces was maintained throughout the fiscal year except in the short month of February last [February 1887; this does not agree with monthly delivery figures quoted above]. The machinery and furnaces of the mint have been thoroughly overhauled, and, from the appropriation of $15,000 by Congress, the mint building has been thoroughly repaired, under the auspices of the Supervising Architect ....
"The coiner operated upon 17,613,577 standard ounces of silver ingots during the year, the coinage executed consisting of 11,210,000 silver dollars, against 9.3 million in the preceding year. This is the largest coinage ever executed in this mint. The percentage of good coin was 56%, with a wastage of 1,375.97 standard ounces."